Paradise Lost and Found 2
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Douglas the Scrivener recently posted about 'super-hero powers and heaven.' A light-hearted and amusing post about those things we all have pondered, but with an important point:
The Christian doctrine of the Resurrection, difficult and vague as it is (cf. St Gregory’s quote above), is not compatible with visions of a state of pure spirit, or with the annihilation of the self. The creedal affirmation of faith in the actual and literal “resurrection of the body” is non-negotiable Christian dogma. We insist, there is continuity between our creation and our redemption: The God who created us holy and good in our flesh and bones by the dust of the ground and His “breath” is the same God who saves us by taking on and re-hallowing our flesh and bones and the dust of the ground, breathing out his Spirit upon us.
I don’t know if I’ll pose my father’s theological stumpers to my own children on our future summer road trips (though I’m sure to try out First-Sleep-Longest-Sleep). Perhaps I will. But in any case, I’ll do what I can to gently steer them away from Superhero Heaven. And when my kids ask me from the back seat, Papa, what is heaven like? I’ll answer: “If you want to know what heaven is like, just look at Jesus.” - Look at Christ’s flesh and blood: crucified, resurrected, deified, at the right hand of the Father yet in our midst, tangible, taste-able. Our portrait of Christ is our portrait of heaven.
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Douglas' excellent post happened to come along about the time I was rereading a portion of Fr. Alexander Schmemann's For the Life of the World:
"To accept God's world as a cosmic cemetery which is to be abolished and replaced by an 'other world' which looks like a cemetery ('eternal rest') and to call this religion, to live in a cosmic cemetery and to 'dispose' every day thousands of corpses and to get excited about a 'just society' and to be happy!--this is the fall of man. It is not the immorality or the crimes of man that reveal him as a fallen being; it is his 'positive ideal'--religious or secular--and his satisfaction with this ideal. This fall, however, can be truly revealed only by Christ, because only in Christ is the fullness of life revealed to us, and death, therefore, becomes 'awful,' the very fall from life, the enemy. It is this world (and not any 'other world'), it is this life (and not some 'other life') that were given as communion with God, and it is only through this world, this life, by 'transforming' them into communion with God that man was to be. The horror of death is, therefore, not in its being the 'end' and not in physical destruction. By being separation from the world and life, it is separation from God. The dead cannot glorify God. It is, in other words, when Christ reveals Life to us that we can hear the Christian message about death as the enemy of God. It is when Life weaps at the grave of the friend, when it contemplates the horror of death, that victory over death begins."
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"We must discover the unchanging, yet always contemporary, sacramental vision of man's life, and therefore of his suffering and disease--the vision that has been the Church's, even if we Christians have forgotten or misunderstood it."
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"A sacrament--as we already know--is always a passage, a transformation. Yet it is not a 'passage' into 'supernature' but into the Kingdom of God, the world to come, into the very reality of this world and its life as redeemed and restored by Christ. It is the transformation not of 'nature' into 'supernature,' but of the old into the new. A sacrament therefore is not a 'miracle' by which God breaks, so to speak, the 'laws of nature' but the manifestation of the ultimate Truth about the world and life, man and nature, the Truth which is Christ."
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"To be Christian, to believe in Christ, means and has always meant this: to know in a transrational and yet absolutely certain way called faith, that Christ is the Life of all life, that He is Life itself and, therefore, my life. 'In him was life; and the life was the light of men." All Christian doctrines--those of the incarnation, redemption, atonement--are explanations, consequences, but not the 'cause' of that faith. Only when we believe in Christ do all these affirmations become 'valid' and 'consistent.' But faith itself is the acceptance not of this or that 'proposition' about Christ, but of Christ Himself as the Life and the light of life. 'For the life was manifested and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us' (1 Jn. 1:2). In this sense Christian faith is radically different from 'religious belief.' Its starting point is not 'belief' but love. . . And if to love someone means that I have my life in him, or rather that he has become the 'content' of my life, to love Christ is to know and to possess Him as the Life of my life."
-- Fr. Alexander Schmemann, from Ch. 6 of For the Life of The World, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press (1973), emphasis in original.
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And so, as Elder Pasios tells us, Where ever Christ is, there is paradise. As Douglas says - when asked, 'what is heaven like?' You point to our Lord. Paradise, or heaven is not a place, it is a person, and our relationship to that person. There are days when I feel I am far from Paradise, wandering in the desert. But he has come to our desert, seeking out His lost sheep.
Thanks to Douglas for his good words, and to Fr. Alexander for his.